Shades of Gray is not about sex. Well, actually there is some sex, but not what you’re thinking.
Ten is a kilm, a race of tall, large-eared, three-clawed desert-dwellers. Having just turned thirty-six, he is now ready to begin military training at Altair 7309, the academy for space pilots, along with his friends Kiva, Jael, Trini, and Jovi. Life as a space cadet is hard, but Ten enjoys it, especially when he can pull one over on the superiors. Though the two talking shadows only he can see are beginning to get annoying. Ten has a condition known as Stridor’s Syndrome, and he’s not sure if the shadows are real or hallucinations. And if they are hallucinations, then that means his condition is getting worse, and he has very little time. And with finals coming up, his best friend falling in love with him, his flight partner going bananas from the stress, plus a whole host of problems just lurking beneath the surface, Ten doesn’t have time for hallucinating weird spirit critters.
Shades of Gray is perhaps one of the most meticulous webcomics currently in existence. Christine Dufour, the writer and artist for the series, has a degree in science, and it shows. In addition to the comic, she provides in-depth guides for the aliens, including their biology, culture, alphabet, and numbers systems. Rather than create a comic where humans must get along with aliens, humans are entirely absent from Shades of Gray. Besides the kilm, there are two other species: shimsa (shape-shifters) and t’hyrma (velociraptors with knives for hands and six eyes). For now, the series focuses on the kilm cadets and staff, with a few minor shimsa and t’hyrma characters.
The story starts off with Ten’s arrival on the station, meeting his classmates and getting his schedule. At first, the plot focuses on his challenges with the physical demands, as well as trying to fit in, despite his Stridor’s Syndrome. As the series progresses, the writing shifts to the relationships between the cadets, centering mainly on Ten, his partner Kiva, and friend Jovi, navigating the difficulties common to all young adults of any species. Even if the characters live in a universe where humans don’t exist, they have the full range of emotions. They experience everyday fears and trials, and undergo the same adolescence all humans go through.
Dufour’s art has evolved over time. When the comic began in 2006, the kilm have very little detail to their bodies, lending a cartoon bent to the art. As the series has progressed to current times, the drawings are realistic in nature, with aliens who could be on the next planet, or next door. The coloration is also natural, in the sense very little vivid colors are used for creatures. Unlike in many sci-fi tropes, where alien visitors are odd colors and shapes, the kilm and their fellows, while not human or human-like, are more the stuff of reality than dreams.
Like all youngsters, the cadets grapple with the beginnings of adult issues: sex, orientation, romantic relationships, dubious intentions, social acceptance, cultural expectations, and curbing violence in favor of tact. While not explicit, there are implied sex scenes and actions, so if not an NSFW rating, it is best kept away from younger readers. She also has a companion comic, Ixion, to help fill the gaps in kilm beliefs and folklore.
Christine Dufour has written a marvelous and addicting series, for fans of sci-fi, adventure, and the supernatural. You can read it at Kahmith.com.